For the first time, the Massachusetts House of Representatives plans to debate and vote on a bill that would grant driver’s licenses to people without legal immigration status.
If the bill becomes law, Massachusetts would become the 17th state to give undocumented immigrants the ability to obtain a license. The bill has been proposed in many forms over the last two decades but has never made it to the floor of the House for a vote.
Ana Vivas, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Ronald Mariano, said Mariano is working to secure enough votes to override a potential veto from the governor, who has opposed versions of the bill in the past. Lawmakers need a two-thirds majority to overcome a gubernatorial veto and push a bill into a law.
“We will be debating it and voting on it next week,” Vivas said.
The bill is expected to move out of the joint transportation committee on Friday, said Representative William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat and the committee’s House chairman.
The bill would allow people who do not have a Social Security number to obtain a driver’s license by providing certain documents that prove their identity, such as a passport and a birth certificate or a passport and a marriage certificate. The bill instructs the attorney general to craft regulations about privacy and the Registry of Motor Vehicles to craft regulations about acceptable documentation. The new ID requirements would take effect on July 1, 2023.
Lenita Reason, executive director of the Brazilian Worker Center, and Chrystel Murrieta-Ruiz, political coordinator at 32BJ Service Employees International Union New England District 615, said the bill is tailored to best promote everyone’s safety.
“That includes law enforcement officials who need to know drivers’ identities, Massachusetts motorists who benefit when every driver is tested and insured, and, of course, the diverse immigrant communities who need to access doctor’s offices, schools, and jobs,” Reason and Murrieta-Ruiz said in a joint statement. “Many immigrants’ lives would be transformed by this bill, and everyone in the Commonwealth would have safer and more secure roads for it.”
An estimated 43,000 to 78,000 undocumented people would get licensed within the first three years of the law’s enactment, according to a 2020 report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. Estimates from the Migration Policy Institute say Massachusetts is home to more than 200,000 undocumented people.
Massachusetts lawmakers have filed similar legislation for nearly 20 years but saw little success until recently.
The Legislature’s transportation committee approved a version of it two years ago, recommending a redrafted bill in February 2020 at a time when Senate President Karen E. Spilka and some law enforcement leaders voiced support for it.
But that bill never emerged for a vote in a pandemic-ravaged legislative session that saw lawmakers push off decisions on the state’s annual budget and joust with Baker over details of other sensitive legislation on policing and abortion.
As early as last fall, House leaders still expressed doubts about whether the concept had enough support in the chamber to survive a gubernatorial veto. Mariano at the time said lawmakers had “a ways to go to solidify the count” needed override an objection from Baker.
The 160-seat House currently has 158 members, and on Friday will lose one more in state Representative Carolyn Dykema, a Holliston Democrat.
Baker has repeatedly opposed the measure, saying in 2019 that his “problem with giving licenses to people who are undocumented is just that — there is no documentation to back up the fact that they are who they say they are.”
His office indicated Thursday that his position hasn’t changed.
”Governor Baker supports existing laws in Massachusetts, enacted on a bipartisan basis, that ensure Massachusetts’ compliance with federal REAL ID requirements and enable those who demonstrate lawful presence in the United States to obtain a license,” Terry MacCormack, a Baker spokesman, said in a statement.
Senator Brendan P. Crighton, a Lynn Democrat and a sponsor of the Senate bill, said, “Anything can happen in debate, but I feel confident there’s enough support in the Senate to override a veto.”
Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat and a sponsor of the bill, said she hopes the governor will take a close look at the new documentation requirements in the bill.
“I feel very good about our vote count and I think that we should not assume that we are going to need a veto-proof majority,” she said. “I’m inviting the governor to take a look at this language.”